Site Map by Shotline Diving @copyright Tom Rutledge
  • Paddlewheel Steamer
  • Depths 151ffw (50m)
  • Length 171ft
  • Main Duck Island, Lake Ontario, N43 50 753 W76 54 139

OCEAN WAVE (1852, Steamer) – C. Patrick Labadie #

Primary Info #

Ship Name: Ocean Wave

Official Number: 19197

Dimensions #

Length: 174′

Breadth: 26′

Depth: 11′

Tonnage (Gross/Net): 182

Construction Info #

City: Montreal, Que

Builder: Molson & Merritt

Date Built: 1852/1857

Builder’s Specifications #

Rig: Sidewheel Steamer

Use Function: Wood, passenger & package freight

Related People #

Captain (Master): Capt. Kuyer (1853 saved)

Owner: Ogdensburg & Boston RR Co, 1857

Collision Info #

Cargo: Flour, pearl ash, seed, hams, butter, tallow

Disposition: Total loss due to fire

Casualty Date: 1853-04-30

Casualty Type: Fire

Casualty Location: Ontario

Survivors: 13

Deaths: 23 – 28

Year of Build: 1852
Built at: Montreal, QUE
Vessel Type: Steamer
Hull Materials: Wood
Builder Name: E.D. Merritt
Original Owner and Location: John Molson, Montreal, Quebec
Propulsion: Sidewheel
Engine Type: Vertical Beam (Walking Beam)
Length: 174.2′ Beam: 26′ Depth: 10.6′
Tonnage (gross): 241 Tonnage (net): 182
Final Location: Near False Duck Island or Kingston, Ontario, Lake Ontario
Date: 14 May 1853
How: Burned
Final Cargo:
Flour, purl ash, seed, hams, butter
Bound Toronto for Ogdensburg, New York, caught fire; 28 lives lost Passengers rescued by schooners GEORGIANNA & EMBLEM 1857 Wreck located & cargo salvaged 1991 Wreck located the Ocean Wave was in the middle of the summer of 1852. There are no accounts of her construction, or of her launch. She was quietly registered on 4 August 1853, an event often associated with the builder’s trials. Her shipwright was Edward D. Merritt, one of the most experienced working in Montreal, having built vessels in that port since the 1820s.
1857 – Wreck located & cargo salvaged
1991 – Wreck relocated by Hydrographic Group

Mills Record Original Vessel Data Name: [ Ocean Wave ] Mills Number: [ 040920 ] #

Propulsion: [ Paddle Wheels ] Official Number: [—– ] Dimensions: [ 174x 26 – (182) tons ]

: [ Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1852 ] Closing Information Date Closed: [1853/04 ] Reason Closed: [ Burnt ] Where Closed: [ Near Kingston, Ontario, Canada ] Addendum.

Ocean Wave; 174x26x11 (width over paddle boxes 44′) Owned by Molson; to E. C. French, Cornwall 1852. Built by Shea & Merritt, Montreal and launched 22/05/52. Engine 45×126 by St. Mary’s Foundry, Montreal. Used on Lake Ontario. Destroyed by fire 30/04/53 near Kingston, 28 killed. Caused by a spark from own stack.

About the time of her trials, a fulsome description of the Ocean Wave’s facilities was offered to the public: “The old fashioned ladies’ cabin has been abolished from the lower deck and the gentlemen’s from below. All below is given up to the officers and crew of the boat, and to freight, for the carrying of which she will, therefore, offer greater capacity than [any ] vessel of her inches. Upon the lower deck aft, there will be a lounge and smoking saloon for gentlemen. Upon the upper deck is a splendid saloon 150 feet in length, and sixteen wide, with rows of staterooms on each side. Abaft one wheel is a small sitting room for ladies, communicating with the lower deck and the grand saloon, and adjoining it is the cabin maid’s room, etc. This sitting room is elegantly fitted up with beautiful carpets, lounges, etc. The grand saloon also is beautifully fitted up, and we had a peep at a fine piano, destined to occupy a nook in it.

There are twenty-six staterooms, containing 52 beds, which we inspected and found good and comfortable. Besides, on the opposite side to the ladies’ sitting room, there is a suite of two rooms to be fitted up for a family, so that the children and nurses may be within reach of their parents, without passing into the saloon. The saloon has an arched roof, which does away with the necessity of the awkward supports found necessary in other boats. The rest or brackets upon which the roof rests are prettily carved, and between each is a pane of stained glass, the colors of which are so arranged as to produce a beautiful effect. The staterooms and saloons are all ventilated upon a new, safe, and most ingenious plan. Mr. Seaver [James Shearer] has designed and superintended this part of the boat. The kitchen and pantry are commodious and convenient; by an ingenious contrivance, the water from the wheel is conveyed into a copper reservoir fastened round the chimnies, from which hot water will be obtained to supply the saloon for washing, shaving, etc. without the bustle of running up and downstairs.

Paying the bills for all this ‘magnificence’ was John Molson jr. Over 40 years after their historic experiments with steam navigation (the Accommodation, 1809), the Molsons still retained interests in some steamers navigating between Montreal and Quebec. Moreover, John jr. had an ongoing financial stake in the St. Mary’s Foundry, where the engines of the Ocean Wave were fabricated.

The Molson connection was of particular interest in the context of her intended route. With a name like Ocean Wave, one might expect a sea-going vessel, or at least one intended to run through or to tide-water. Yet the Ocean Wave was built to the controlling dimensions of the St. Lawrence canals: 174.2′ in length; 26′ in breadth with a depth of hold of 10.6′.

While the Montreal Gazette would describe her as “expressly built for lake navigation”, the Ogdensburg Sentinel claimed she was “built to ply between Montreal and Quebec”.

Whatever Molson may have had in mind when he commissioned her construction, it is clear from her dimensions he was keeping the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario as an option. Given that Molson had never run vessels on the upper river, and indeed was winding down his commitments on the middle St. Lawrence, his competition may well have been forgiven some confusion as to his intentions. On August 4, 1852 (the same day that Merritt signed the builder’s certificate) the Ocean Wave’s first departure was advertised “for Hamilton” the next day.

In just over a month Molson’s plans became clear. Having showcased her suitability for the Montreal-Hamilton route, Molson transferred the Ocean Wave’s registry to “Edwin C. French of Cornwall”.

But the registry documents fail to make clear that the real money behind the purchase was the Northern New York Rail Road Co. of Boston (not to be confused with the Northern Railway, Toronto to Collingwood).

The American Northern, recently completed between Rouse’s Point and Ogdensburg, New York was part of a larger strategy of New England capitalists to use railroad technology to draw the Great Lakes into the economic orbit of Boston.

They thought along the same lines as the promoters of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad (Portland, Maine), or indeed those behind the merger which created the New York Central in 1853. The Northern (or the Ogdensburg line, as it was known around the lakes), supplied French with three promissory notes dated 8 Sept. 1852 for $14,666.66 each, payable at three days, one year and two years. These provided the collateral for the mortgage given by Molson to French on the £11,000 purchase price.

How did French enter into all of this? He was the Station Agent at the Ogdensburg end of the line. That the railroad was involved in the purchase was generally advertised. Just a day after the sale was consummated, the Kingston British Whig offered a dire warning of a “serious incursion into the Forwarding trade”. It noted the purchase of the Ocean Wave together with the Boston (then at Quebec) and the charter of the much smaller George Frederick running on the Bay of Quinte. If the sale was no secret, why use Edwin French “of Cornwall” as the point man? The answer lies in a desire to keep the Ocean Wave in British registry. Two equally compelling reasons may be offered for this. First, the navigation of the St. Lawrence was still not open to American vessels (and would not be until the ratification of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854).

Consequently, if it was considered useful to send the Ocean Wave to Montreal, she needed to remain in British registry, But the raison d’être of the Northern Railroad was to forestall shipments to Montreal, so it is likely that this was not the chief consideration. More to the point, the American registry laws virtually prohibited the purchase of foreign bottoms for the American flag fleet.

Thus her British registry was almost certainly not, as would later be alleged, a ploy to avoid more stringent American safety regulations. In buying or chartering vessels to form its own steamboat line, the Northern Railroad was following the lead of the Michigan Central Railroad, which since 1849 had run the palatial Mayflower and other vessels between Buffalo and its own tracks at Detroit. Unquestionably the most ill-starred of the Michigan Central’s vessels was the chartered Atlantic, which sank with hundreds of passengers on board in the early morning of 20 August 1852, only a couple of weeks after the trials of the Ocean Wave.

The vessel that sank the Atlantic was the propeller Ogdensburg, one of the new propellers belonging to the Northern Transportation Company, a line of freight boats running from Ogdensburg to Chicago which had been formed only the previous season, apparently owned independently from the railroad.

While the Northern New York line had little specific interest in the railroad steamships of the upper lakes, it was vitally interested in bringing freight and passengers to its Ogdensburg wharves. Indeed the opening of this line was generally credited with dramatically shifting the pattern of the Lake Ontario trade away from Oswego. But they were hardly in a position to rest on their laurels. The completion of the Rome and Cape Vincent Railroad in the spring of 1852 threatened to intercept trade at the entrance to the St. Lawrence River and draw it south to New York. Indeed, the following year that competitor, using essentially the same registry dodge, would acquire the Champion, Highlander and the Mayflower (formerly the Comet)

In the meantime, the Ocean Wave and her new linemate, Boston, began in the fall of 1852 to run from Ogdensburg to Hamilton, a route she would pick up in the spring of 1853.

One particularly spectacular cargo was given extra publicity that fall. On Saturday, the 13th of November, she delivered to Ogdensburg a cargo of some 1538 barrels of flour for transfer to the railroad. Nothing moved on Sunday. Not until Monday morning would they begin unloading the flour, and loading 264 tons of freight (in 2992 packages). She was underway by 8:00 p.m. The upbound freight was consigned to major ports like Toronto and Hamilton, way ports like Cobourg, Port Hope and Oakville, and back communities like Stewarttown and Georgetown.

The following spring, the company announced that it would use the Ocean Wave and the Boston in a weekly line running between Ogdensburg and Hamilton. The emphasis on freight in their plans is evident in their declaration that “part of the time, these steamers will be employed in tugging the fleet of schooners chartered by the company from Ogdensburgh to the foot of Lake Ontario.” That they might be kept well employed at this was the objective of the railroad’s agents who, early that spring, were actively chartering all the schooners they could around the lake. According to one source, for example, they had succeeded in chartering nearly all those owned in St. Catharines. This action, it was predicted, would serve both to bolster freight rates over the course of the year, and secure much of the freight for the Ogdensburg and Boston railroad (as the Northern New York was often called).

This emphasis on freight is hardly surprising considering that the established American lines on Lake Ontario already ran several first-class steamers into Ogdensburg including the Northerner, Cataract, Niagara, and Ontario. At the same time, the Bay State and New York had been formed into an Express Line to run from Ogdensburg to Lewiston (via Cape Vincent and Toronto) in connection with the railroad.

By late April 1853, the Ocean Wave had had a career of fewer than six months on the lakes. Already there had been hints of trouble. Sparks had often been seen flying out of the door used for cleaning the boiler (itself encased in felt). On her very first trip, the felt lining encasing the steam-drum had caught fire. Fortunately, there had been a fire company on board who had been able to pour over 50 buckets of water on the flames and cut away the burning felt.

At first glance, a second incident had seemed much less ominous. About one o’clock one morning in the spring of 1853, the purser, Thomas Oliver, noticed a spark catching hold on the hurricane (upper) deck. He quickly doused it with water from a fire bucket kept nearby. When later questioned, the first mate was generally dismissive of the event. “It could hardly be said she was on fire,” he said. No one would say this the next time.  

Buffalo Express  Jan. 2, 1854 #

OCEAN WAVE Steamer (Br.), burned near Kingston. Total loss, boat, and cargo. 28 lives lost. Property loss $50,000       (casualty list)   

Oswego Daily Journal  Monday, May 1, 1853  #

Sunday Report.      
By the Morse Line.      
DESTRUCTION OF THE OCEAN WAVE BY FIRE.       Twenty-eight Lives Lost.       Ogdensburgh, Sunday, May 1st. The Ocean Wave, a Canadian steamer, in the employ of the Ogdensburgh Northern Railroad, was destroyed by fire at about 2 o’clock on Saturday morning.       From the crew of the Stephen Blackman we have the following particulars: — The Ocean Wave took fire from her furnace on her downward trip, while off the Ducks, about forty miles above Kingston, about two o’clock, on Saturday morning. When first discovered she was about a mile and a half from shore, and was immediately headed for shore; but so intense was the heat that the machinery gave out and she drifted to sea. – The upper cabin was consumed in about fifteen minutes, and in about two hours the hull went down. Those saved were taken off by schooner Georgiana.      
The Wave had on board 14 cabin and 9 deck passengers, besides 4 children and the crew, who swelled the number to about 50 – twenty-two of whom were saved – among the crew saved were Capt. Wright and both mates, Thomas Oliver, the purser, and both wheelsmen, second engineer, Mr. Blackman, and a number of deckhands. Among the passengers saved were Mr. Francis Kiah and wife, both of whom were burnt, but not dangerously, Mrs. French of Cornwall, and a lady, wife of the Cashier of Gore Bank, Hamilton. These three ladies were all the females saved. A small vessel on her way down sent a boat to the assistance of the ill-fated steamer, but the men being frightened pulled away again. The Georgiana then hove in sight, lowered a boat which was manned with her mate and two sailors, and succeeded in picking up 18 passengers.       Two minutes after this rescue, the wreck went down. She had drifted 8 miles from shore before she sunk. The captain, first mate, and one passenger reached shore near the disaster, and the vessel brought the rest to Kingston. Among these lost are Mr. Turnbull, 1st engineer; Julius Sanford, bar-keeper; the cook, a Mrs. McDonald; a nurse and 3 children of the Cashier of the Gore bank; three ladies, names unknown; Mr. Lyman B. Fisk, of the firm of H.S. Humphrey Co., of O.B. Whole number lost, is 28. The progress of the flames was so rapid that it was impossible to launch any of the boats on board.  

Oswego Daily Times  Monday, May 2, 1853  #

Burning of the Ocean Wave – More full Particulars      

The Loss of the Ocean Wave The burning of the British steamer Ocean Wave on the North shore of Lake Ontario on Saturday morning last, of which we give in another column all the details received, is the most melancholy disaster of the kind we have ever had to record on this Lake. Our information in relation to it is not sufficient to justify an opinion of the causes of the frightful disaster. Previous to this, steam navigation has been attended with few fatal disasters to human life on Lake Ontario, and indeed no serious ones to American built and managed steamers. Our steamers have run with an exemption from accident and security for passengers under all emergencies unparalleled upon our inland waters. We regret our neighbors on the other side are not equally successful, and that their steam navigation is not regulated by laws, stringent as our own.      

Oswego Daily Journal       May 3, 1853    #

By an extra from the Ogdensburgh Sentinel office, we have particulars, somewhat more in detail than we published in our telegraph yesterday morning. The Ocean Wave took fire from her furnaces, on her downward trip from Hamilton, when off “The Ducks,” about 40 miles above Kingston, between one and two o’clock on Saturday morning. When the fire was first discovered, the boat, the boat was almost 1 1/2 miles from shore and was immediately headed for land, but the heat becoming so intense that the machinery gave out, and the vessel drifted to Sea. The upper Cabin, he thinks, was consumed in about fifteen minutes and in about two hours the hull went down. Mr. Blackman saved himself by adhering to a couple of planks that had been thrown overboard.      
He was at one time nearly 1/4 of a mile from the burning Steamer, but the wind drifted the wreck upon him, and he secured his planks to the rudder, where two or three others were already clinging, where they remained until taken off by the schooner Georgiana.      
Mr. Blackman says that while on the wreck, a high-pressure steamer passed without rendering assistance, merely inquiring the name of the burning boat.      
The Ocean Wave had on board 14 cabin and 9 deck passengers besides 4 children and the crew, who swelled the total number to about 50, 22 of whom were saved.       Among the crew saved were Captain Wright, and both mates, Mr. Thomas Oliver, Purser, both Wheelsmen, 2d Engineer, Mr. Blackman, and a number of deckhands.      
Among the passengers saved were Mr. Francis Kiah and Wife, both of whom were considerably but not dangerously burned; Mrs. French of Cornwall, and a Lady, wife of the Cashier of the Gore Bank, Hamilton. These three ladies were all the females saved.       Mr. Blackman speaks in the highest terms of the heroic conduct exhibited by Mr. Oliver and the 2d mate. The lady from Hamilton was saved from the personal exertions of the 2d Mate, who tore her nightclothes to strings, and with them lashed her to a part of the wreck, floating in the water, and when she had nearly perished with cold, held her up to the fire which revived her. Mr. Oliver was the last man to leave the wreck.      
A small vessel on her way down sent her boat to the assistance of the sufferers, but the men in the boat being frightened pulled away again. The Georgiana then hove in sight, lowered her boat, which manned with her mate and two sailors, succeeded in picking up the eighteen saved with Mr. Olive  

LOSS OF THE OCEAN WAVE —THE LATEST PARTICULARS.       Ogdensburg, May 1, 1853.       #

We have further particulars of the loss of the OCEAN WAVE, from one of the crew, Stephen Blackman. The OCEAN WAVE took fire from her furnace, on her downward trip, off the Ducks, about forty I miles above Kingston, on Saturday morning, about two o’clock. When the fire was first discovered, she was about a mile and a half from the shore, which she was immediately headed for; but so intense was the heat, that the machinery gave out and she was drifted to sea. The upper cabin was consumed in about fifteen minutes, and in about two hours the hull went down. Those saved were taken off by the schooner GEORGIANA. The OCEAN WAVE had on board 14 cabin and 9 deck passengers, besides four children and the crew, who swelled the number to about fifty, of whom 22 were saved. Among the crew saved was

  • Capt. Wright and both mates;
  • Thomas Oliver, the purser;
  • both wheelsmen;
  • the second engineer;
  • Mr. Blackman; and a number of deckhands.  

    The following were among the passengers saved:

  • Mr. Francis Kiah and wife, both of whom were burned, but not dangerously
  • .Mrs. French, of Cornwall.      
  • The wife of Mr. Moore, of the Gore Bank, Hamilton.      

Those three above named were aII the females saved.      

A small vessel on the way down sent a boat to the assistance of the ill-fated steamer, but the men being frightened pulled away again. The schooner GEORGIANA then hove in sight, lowered a boat, which was manned with her mate and two sailors, and succeeded in picking up eighteen persons.      
Two minutes after the rescue, the wreck went down. She had drifted eight miles from the shore before she sunk. The captain, first mate, and one passenger reached the shore near the disaster, and the vessel brought the rest to Kingston. The following is a list of some of the lost: Mr.Trumbull, first engineer. Julius Santers, bar-keeper. The cook of the steamer. Mrs. Donald. The nurse and three children of’ the Cashier of the Gore Bank, Hamilton. Three ladies, names unknown. Mr. Lynlan B. Fiske, of the firm of H.S. Humphrey, of Ogdensburgh. The whole number of lost is at least twenty-eight. The progress of the flames was so rapid that it was impossible to launch any of the boats which were on board.      

Buffalo Daily Courier  May 3, 1853       #

The Gale – Marine Disasters. – A telegraph dispatch dated at Rochester May 6th represents the blow on Thursday night to have been a tremendous gale. The dispatch adds that the schooner Vincennes of Sandusky bound down, went ashore off the mouth of Genesee River, and is a total wreck. her cargo consisted of 1,050 bbls. of flour, 3,000 bushels of wheat and a few casks of ashes. A small schooner loaded with lumber, name unknown, was lost at the same place. The crew of both vessels was saved. The steamer Niagara from Oswego attempted to land, but did not succeed, and went up the lake.      

Oswego Daily Times       Saturday, May 17, 1853 #

 One of the saddest lake tragedies of the time, occurred 112 years ago, Saturday, April 29th, 1853 – when the combination passenger and cargo steamer OCEAN WAVE, burned and sank three miles in the lake, off Point Traverse, with a loss of twenty-eight lives. Thirteen passengers and fifteen crew members perished. The steamer carried as her cargo passengers and freight, and the story of the disaster was told by a few survivors who were rescued by nearby vessels and fishermen from the nearby shore.      

The OCEAN WAVE made a round trip once a week between Hamilton and Montreal, under Captain Allison Wright. She had left Kingston for the head of Lake Ontario. Captain Wright was rescued by David Dulmage, Point Traverse farmer, who was awakened about 2 o’clock in the morning, and pushed off in a small boat from the nearby shore, and rowed out two miles to the ill-fated ship, amid the screams of perishing passengers.  Two vessels nearby had seen the fire and rushed to the scene to give succor, picking up men and women from the icy waters of Lake Ontario.  One of the vessels was the schooner GEORGINA of Port Dover, under Capt. Henderson; and the other vessel the EMBLEM of Bronte, Captain J. Belyea.      

The EMBLEM was later rebuilt and renamed the OLIVIA. Her timbers rest now in the Picton harbour. It is recounted that all of the company’s earnings for the year were aboard the ship, being in gold and silver, for deposit in Montreal. This seems strange as the season was just beginning, but old-timers repeat that such is the case, and to this day, no one has attempted to salvage the money from the ship’s safe or strong boxes. The OCEAN WAVE was a cordwood burner, and Captain wright said it started from sparks from her funnel. It is also said that the OCEAN WAVE was engaged in a heated race up the lake with another boat if so, the other ship was not nearby to give any help. It is also said that the fire started in the engine room, ignited a large shipment of tallow aboard, and soon the ship was a flaming inferno.  The fire was so great that it drove the second mate from the wheel and destroyed all of the lifeboats. The engine could not be stopped and was still running when she sank.      

A coroner’s jury at Kingston found that had a proper watch been maintained on board ship, the fire would not have gained such swift headway.  It is said that the body of the Purser of the OCEAN WAVE, was found some weeks later on the shore of Lake Ontario, near West Point, by a Mr. Hyatt. A large sum of money was found in his belt to be in good condition.      

Canvas & Steam on Quinte Waters  by Willis Metcalf #

Picton press July 8th, 1857, gives the following; Successful attempts have been made this last spring to find the location of the steamer OCEAN WAVE, that burned to the water’s edge and sank off Long Point in the spring of 1853. She lies in shallow water between three and four miles from shore. It is said to contain a large amount of money. There may be some means to raise her from the water, principally on acco

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